American military aid to Israel—which comes not in the form of cash, but as credits to be spent on U.S.-manufactured equipment—is a frequent source of complaint for enemies of the Jewish state. But some of its friends have also contended that military assistance increases Jerusalem’s dependence on Washington, reduces its freedom of action, and merely gives fodder to critics. Richard Goldberg counters such arguments and explains the benefits that accrue to both countries, including practical collaboration in the development and testing of new technologies:
American military leaders know and love their Israeli counterparts for their shared values, pro-American spirit, ingenuity, and courage. The explosion in military-to-military cooperation has deepened the U.S. defense community’s understanding of Israel’s threats and requirements. . . . Skeptics should watch the videos released from this year’s bilateral Juniper Oak exercise to appreciate better the breadth of this cooperation, which has continued to expand under every president.
An American subsidy for Israel’s purchases of platforms that Israel would otherwise still need to buy out of its own defense budget takes enormous pressure off Israel’s military planners without harming Israel’s domestic industry. . . . Israeli defense leaders have no interest in returning to the days of domestically produced fighter aircraft like the Lavi or the Kfir. The American fighter jets long ago won the cost-benefit analysis inside the IDF headquarters.
While Israel maintains its own line of production on a wide range of military platforms and systems for export to allies like India, those export markets do not produce strategically game-changing assets for import like the United States. For that, Israel’s only alternatives would be Russia and China—imports that would immediately end the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship as we know it, cutting Israel off from intelligence and technology it needs to survive.
Taking away that $3.8 billion would not increase Israel’s freedom of action in the Middle East nor reduce the ability for a U.S. president to pressure the Israeli government in areas of policy disagreement. The United States is and will remain the superpower Israel relies on for much more than foreign aid. The tremendous danger to Israel from its enemies sensing daylight between Jerusalem and Washington is palpable both in the prime minister’s office and the IDF headquarters. If America wanted to curtail Israel’s freedom of action, it could do so with or without cutting a check for Israel’s security.